The supervillain Venom is a renowned staple of Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man franchise: a down-on-his-luck journalist named Eddie Brock accidentally merged with a symbiotic alien parasite, granting him superior strength and speed at the expense of his humanity. This film is the second rendition of the character, following his disappointing portrayal in 2007’s Spider-Man 3 by Topher Grace of That ‘70s Show fame.
Venom is the product of a deal between Sony Pictures Releasing and Marvel Studios. In exchange for letting Sony use their character Venom, Marvel would produce Spider-Man: Homecoming for Sony under the condition that they let Marvel use the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Sony expects to use Venom as a jumping-off point for a franchise, referring to the film in May 2017 as the first installment of “Sony’s Marvel Universe.” To say that a lot is hinging on this film would be an understatement.
Visually, the film is a marvel. Its frequent action sequences are explosive and ludicrously over-the-top, yet never lose their edge. The CGI effects are even more impressive: the spectacularly menacing look sported by Venom himself will be enough to soften the hearts of even the most hardened comic book purists. Unfortunately, the film’s positives become more inconsistent beneath its glossy surface.
Perhaps the film’s most glaringly obvious problem is the dialogue. The characters’ speech is littered with clichéd witticisms that sound like every cheap action flick you’ve ever seen molded into a grotesque amalgam of incoherence.
In fact, one could say that the dialogue reads like it was written by one of the aliens in the film. Only one would be wrong, because the aliens in the film are more well-versed in modern slang and colloquialisms than your average grandmother. The film’s plot is overwhelmed with inconsistencies like these, and swerves through various settings and plot threads with seemingly little rhyme or reason.
The film also suffers from tonal inconsistencies as well. A large part of Venom’s appeal as a character is his dark, savage image. The film honors that (I think he bit off at least two different characters’ heads by the films’ end), but punctuates it with cheap laughs. The creepy parasitic relationship between Brock and the symbiote is offset very awkwardly by the buddy-cop tone that the film pushes, making it an off-balance mess that is unsure of exactly what kind of movie it wants to be. Sony said that they initially planned for the film to have an R-rating until it was lowered to PG-13, and it really shows.
That all being said, I found the film to be largely enjoyable. A lot of the jokes do land, and the running time is a merciful hour and fifty-two minutes, short by today’s superhero film standards. The unabashed idiocy of the film’s characters and their idiosyncratic dialogue makes every scene truly unique. Tom Hardy, sporting a ridiculously hokey American accent, performs the titular role in an amusingly absurd fashion. My personal favorite moment was during Brock’s transformation, a kinetic scene in which Hardy runs amok in a classy restaurant, falling on tables, and ravenously stealing chicken from various plates.
Despite the film’s obvious flaws, it is still possible for one to find Venom very entertaining. The film’s high performance at the box office reflects that. For better or for worse, Venom could easily be the beginning of a very successful franchise for Sony: they seem to agree, as back in August, Hardy stated that he was signed on for two upcoming Venom movies.